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The Innovation Illusion: How So Little Is Created by So Many Working So Hard by Fredrik Erixon and Björn Weigel

Published in November of 2017.

The thesis of Erixon and Weigel’s (Swedish academics and entrepreneurs) excellent The Innovation Illusion is that we living through an innovation famine.  They argue that the big future risk is not too much technologically driven change, but too little.  The risk is not automation and robots taking our jobs, but too little in the way of advances in robotics and automation.

The problem, according to Erixon and Weigel, is not technology.  The problem is that capitalism has become boring, safe, and tame.  Companies are no longer created and run by iconoclastic capitalists, but rather are vehicles for long-term retirement investments for stockholders.  Regulations have become so onerous that companies spend huge sums on corporate compliance offices, and are incentivized above all else to avoid risks.

As you can see, The Innovation Illusion is a book that actively seeks to defy the conventional wisdom.  It is a book aimed squarely at everyone who worries about driverless cars and trucks taking all the transportation jobs.  Rather than worrying that companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have gotten too big and powerful - Erixon and Weigel would argue that they are not aggressive and risk taking enough.

It may seem a simple matter to dispute the big ideas in The Innovation Illusion.  Can’t we point to Elon Musk, and his big bets with Tesla and SpaceX?  Isn’t the fact that Amazon seems to care little about short-term profits evidence that some companies are willing to think big and long-term?  If companies have become complacent, how do we explain Uber’s big investments in driverless cars?  Or Google’s propensity to invest its search advertising monopoly profits on GoogleX?  

Of course, when it comes to edtech, I might wish for a little more creative destruction.

Through a purely educational technology lens, would you say that we are living through an innovation famine?

When was the last time that you got really excited about any educational technology?

We seem to all be suffering from something of a low-grade MOOC hangover.  Even though those of us who actually work on open online courses never believed the MOOC hype - we knew that they would not change the system of higher education - we did enjoy the brief attention from our (then) provosts.  The best thing about MOOC mania was that it got folks around campus who have not thought too much about the intersection of learning and technology to invite us (briefly) into the “room where it happened”.  We have since been expelled from that room, but it was nice while it lasted.

No other learning technology innovations with anywhere near the impact of MOOCs seem to be on the horizon.

Adaptive learning environments?  Great, but more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Big data and learning analytics?  Interesting and important, but maybe not wildly exciting.

Augmented and virtual reality?  We already know that AR/VR are overhyped before the hype cycle has even had a chance to get revved up.

Mobile learning? When it comes to online learning, I still can’t figure out how to get beyond the need for a good keyboard.

What would be a big deal?  I keep thinking about the potential of open online learning, courses at scale, to make traditional online/residential education more efficient.  Could we substitute open online courses for foundational/introductory courses for the proportion of the population that would thrive in such an environment?  Some students really need the hands-on mentoring help of an educator.  In some courses, other students do not.

Might we make education faster and cheaper for those who do just fine in introductory courses by sitting in the back of the big lecture room?

The Innovation Illusion is a good book to read if you are worried about the downsides of technological change.  It may be that our concerns about technological unemployment are overblown.  This is an argument worth considering.

What sorts of edtech innovations would get you excited?

What are you reading?

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